Monday, January 31, 2005

NEW! Review of Timothy Donnelly

Twenty-Seven Props for a Production of Eine Lebenszeit by Timothy Donnelly. Grove Press, $14.

Reviewed by Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle

Occam, in translation, was reduced to weak-kneed jabber. "The simplest will be true." What he instead said is that excess must be necessary. Ankle-biters, please here note a world-turning change of plan. I've heard this book attacked starting even at the title, for its ungainly lengths, "pomposity," artifice, its failure as catch-word, pull-quote, or sound-bite. I say, it’s high time authors showed such size, nerve, and style.

Twenty-Seven Props for a Production of Eine Lebenszeit declares itself instantly as theater, as gesture, with unquestionable elan. Call it a challenge. Why not try the heights? Put everything anyone else is doing in whatever direction in American poetry today over on one side, I’d have to come out strong for Donnelly on the other.

Painted in the boldest strokes of carnival marquees, view "Fanny Fowler’s Poetry and Dioramas Workshops." (Could what charms most in his art be its slightly fading colors?)
Among her sharper innovations, Fowler’s infamous
   "Poetry and Dioramas" workshops perhaps
   pierce deepest, rivaling in radiance the sloe-
   opening eye of Cleopatra’s asp.
Included, on display: "This is the Belle of Amherst’s hearse."

Much lip service gets paid these days to jouissance, but do we still read with pleasure? Who remembers the imagination, with its root-word image? I luxuriate in Donnelly’s apt magic, although he’s not all show. There’s just more good hard work in this one book than in 10 other arguably credible authors’ efforts that I leave dawdling on my desk. I’d really rather read his over. In a new American poetics re-heatedly unearthing the "fragments" of the European past, I love a man who can complete a sentence.  

Consider the above. We don’t ordinarily speak of a "sharper" innovation. Is the poet having more fun than his reader? Irked, and so attentive--suspicious--we next arrive at "pierce." Some kind of back-up, anyway. Could he merely seek by this to reinforce a faltering conceit? I am still in suspension. Magisterially he then brings it off, getting the last word. "Asp" rewards us for our tension.

Thank the gods of sky and sod he did not dig into secrets veiled since ancient Egypt! We don’t need some opaque reference to their Book of the Dead, which of course I’ve heard of but never read. Here’s nothing heavy-handed or elite. Donnelly is deft. Cleopatra impacts unassisted as an immediate image, is accessible to all, and is well suited as a figure to Fanny’s amateur tableaux.

In closing, shall I now admire his "sloe-opening eye"? Enjoyment, plus enjambment! Of course we know Cleo as sloe-eyed; and neatly, too, it was in fact
her asp’s mouth that opened . . .

Sunday, January 30, 2005

NEW! Review of Ruth Stone

In the Dark by Ruth Stone. Copper Canyon Press, $22.

Reviewed by Jenn Blair

Edwin Muir once wrote, “This is a difficult country, and our home.” Ruth Stone's poetry has absorbed this contradiction, to its great strength. Her work is by turns wry, spare, raw, and generous. In the Dark presents a collection of poems fully inhabited by a voice that takes delight in many subjects, but two in particular: the slightly ajar and the just so.

Stone's work echoes Wordsworth's famous pronouncement that “we murder to dissect,” but one important distinction between Stone and the Romantic poet quickly emerges: she's funny. Consider her poem “Heaven,” a piece that speaks of “ignorance hung / like a bat of viscous glue; / upside down-- / beautiful blind insectivore.” Traces of humor appear in other poems, but Stone's lightheartedness often contains an edge. “What They Don't Tell Us About” speaks of an “asteroid fat boy,” noting, “This kid is a little punk, three miles in diameter / and solid rock. He's brushed-off / leftover pie dough.” In “Interim,” “the radiator that sits / in the kitchen passing gas” turns plaintive at the conclusion: “When you have nothing to say, / the sadness of things / speaks for you.” Stone's use of everyday objects puts her in the same realm as Nancy Willard and Jane Hirshfield, but her personification possesses more iron, perhaps. In “Drought Again,” she speaks of rocks “secret as potatoes” who “squint in their gum-dirt sockets / and Geiger-count a tremble coming / inch by inch.”

Other poems, such as “Body Language,” hand back readers lost fragments of days. We usually don't remember the sidewalk we walked down this afternoon, but Stone's poetry brushes off matter only to re-present it, giving us another chance. We nod in recognition, for the first time--again--strangely pleased at the reappearance of “A pyramid of vitamins, endorsed by Olympic teams, / in the flyspecked window.” If Stone's poetry is like the world, that's because it contains a little of everything--“mystery” and “longing” as well as “shit” and “Wal-Mart.”

Stone's poetry also speaks of the past as a force to be reckoned with. The poem “Ice” ends with a surprising juxtaposition: “the tracery of blue-white / forget-me-nots carved of the purest ice may lash / us with the sting of memory.” In “This is How It Is,” she remarks of her late husband, “On this planet, for me, there was only one impetuous specimen.” “Am I” is a shattering, unsentimental account of insensitive medical advice handed her shortly after his death. The force of the poem lies in Stone's refusal to point fingers: she indicts simply by recounting. These poems imply that if meaning becomes condensed enough, it constantly reoccurs: perhaps our lives are composed of just a few moments, terror and joy not much different in that they happen over and over. “Accepting” and “Tell Me” also dwell in the personal, touching on Stone's failing eyesight, questioningly but gracefully. Without lapsing into hagiography, the sense still remains that Stone has mastered--or been gifted--the rare ability to hold her disappointment at arm's length, at least just long enough to wrest it onto paper and pound out some of the frustration to sustenance and some of the pain to bread.

In Of Poetic Diction (1973), Owen Barfield argued that metaphors are not created, only apprehended, and that this truth had been forgotten over time. He wrote, “The language of primitive men reports them as direct perceptual experience. The speaker has observed a unity, and is not therefore himself conscious of relation. But we, in the development of consciousness, have lost the power to see this one as one.” Barfield concluded that imagination was the key to drawing disparate parts back to a whole: “The world, like Dionysus, is torn to pieces by pure intellect; but the poet is Zeus; he has swallowed the heart of the world; and he can reproduce it as a living body.” In Stone's collection, poems such as “Blizzard” and “Pulsing” skillfully bring these various “pieces” or fragments together into a unified whole. Her poems hint that Barfield was onto something: with enough imagination, a poet truly can “discover” (or uncover) those places where “here” and “there” brush shins.

Stone's poems bristle with a disarming simplicity. Pieces such as “Walter, Upon Looking Around” and “Between Men” touch on gender, but are not heavy handed, leaving us with the feeling Stone has simultaneously held her tongue and spoken her piece. “In the Free World” presents a truculent murderer's remarks, a few observations on gun control, then concludes with the Mexican government's “betraying” and bombing of “Native American farmers”: the guns that have slipped from the dead farmers' hands are revealed to be “just pieces of carved wood.” Since Stone's censure appears in the guise of comment, the welt does not rise immediately, but gradually, giving the distinct impression that withholding judgement might be the most elegant judgment of all.

If we trust Stone, perhaps it is mostly because she herself seems to inhabit the “stern rapture” mentioned in “Writer's Block.” “Cosmos” asks, “What is this speech, this blind fingering of the dark?” then answers, “Nothing, old mother, / but your wasted breath.” Stern, indeed. But “And So Forth,” the poem presented just one page before “Cosmos,” preaches a cautious optimism. How else could one grow brave enough to ask, “Can I hope the great ear of the universe / is pressed to the wall of space and hears me, / its own chick peeping?”

Friday, January 28, 2005

NEW! Review of Patrick Herron

American Godwar Complex by Patrick Herron. BlazeVOX, $10.

Reviewed by Heidi Lynn Staples

And the just man rages in the wilds / Where lions roam. --William Blake

Some readers simply won't be satisfied with the particular execution of the political agenda in American Godwar Complex. Patrick Herron, surely, is aware of this, and his “Fuck You O Elvis” might be read, in part, as a response to anticipated critiques that demand a front-man of more lyricism and less didacticism:
... Fuck you O Elvis your cloudy pool is airless; the fish float on the surface with marble grin rotated sideways.

Fuck you O Elvis your rotted Picasso-sloughed corpse you had no taste for voluminous fervor you absented toiling clam and skinny tie flim-flam spam man.

Fuck you O Elvis you are the icon of my gilded excoriation.

Fuck you O Elvis fuck you I'll take John Lennon any day.

The epigraphs by Bertolt Brecht and Allen Ginsberg, two writers who worked from a belief in the poem as relevant site for public discourse, suggest we read the book not as the overheard musing of a solitary speaker but as the openly proclaimed indignation of an angry citizen. American Godwar Complex commences with a bit of revolutionary disturbance: “The Star Spangled Banner” becomes the collection's first poem, “The Blood-Spatter'd Banner”:
Oh, say can't you see, by the bare dangled light,
What so loudly we nailed with our nighttime's armed reaming?

Whose blood stripes and barbed stars, through the one-sided fight,
O'er the ghettoes we watched, were so violently screaming?

Does the vanquished's dead stare, uranium bursting in air,
Give proof to our night that our flag is still there?

O say, can that blood-spattered banner yet wave
O'er the land ruled by blind decree, in a world we enslave?

This presents more than bare pastiche; across the collection, Herron employs (not always with sufficient force) the Situationist strategy of d'etournement--the subversion, devaluation and re-use of present and past cultural production to demolish its message while pirating its impact. What Adbusters does to the corporate, Herron sets out to do to the government: “The Star Spangled Banner” becomes “The Blood-Spattered Banner”; “My Country Tis of Thee” becomes “My Country Steals from Me”;“Hail to the Chief” becomes “Hail to the Thief”; “Take Me Out to The Ball Game” becomes “Take Me Out In the Maul Game.”

Herron's saucy speaker mouths off in poems of a wide assortment, including skeletals, epistles, definitions, transcripts, and this one-liner:

I used to love a parade.

By evoking a fallen enthusiasm for processions--those actions in which things (words, cognitive patterns, policies, people) move forward in regular formation--Herron expresses disenchantment with, among other phenomena, high-stepping lyricism. Instead of a well-wrought yearn, the reader will find, for example, acerbic political haikus:
Politiku 1

Word from our sponsors:
please place your television
on the ocean floor.

Politiku 2

american re
olution: pollution, de
plete uranium.

solution: dig a
hold to permanently keep
armed forces covert.

Sustained anger, a distinct feature of the collection, alienates the reader--perhaps purposefully. As anyone who has been in a good row knows, anger creates distance. Most obviously, anger introduces questions of judgment into the reading experience: What's he so angry about? Should he be this angry? What does he want me to do about it? Such questions interrupt the reader from her dreamy identification with the poem's speaker and ask her to wake up, participate in the making of meaning, and decide the issues for herself, goddammit; however, the best culture jamming--using an enemy's resources against it--is shocking and unexpected. The book's accomplishment in these terms can be unclear, particularly when words rhyme predictably, the syntax goes unsubverted, and the subject and sentiment can be anticipated, as in “Amurika Eins:”
Follow the bouncing ball
to wherever Osama will fall.

Our might will take it all.

To fill the lives of young soldiers with thrills,
to inspire our leaders to gobble their pills!

There's oil in them thar Caspian hills.

Very likely these lines play better as spoken word, an indication of the collection's inherent theatricality.

To everything there is a season. A time to laugh. A time to cry. And a time to tell off the motherfuckers. American Godwar Complex identifies our current epoch as this latter sort.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

NEW! L.S. Klatt poems

L.S. Klatt

Three poems


Cast-iron block & tackle
look for light in an orange boat
hooks, delphinium
nets drying in a golden pile

The marina is open
it takes Braille to read the cargo

A supermodel sculls in the harbor
her high heels dry-docked
as is the schooner

The fisherman takes apart his propeller in the shade
both hot & cold the way light treats him
I said look at the way she treats him


My halo attracts lightning
& so I am dead

or possibly there's a dead man
in my mouth

though I'm blowing blowing
a pigeon to life

& if not pigeons
an Etruscan named Dardano

my city is lit with the snow
of his groin


Little bronze door where lead you?
I smell an ape or a gory fanatic

anvil head in his hairshirt lap
a bust of pleurisy

Out of the quarried travertine stones
a church of comic superheroes

*yet he walked with the underclass
& capitalized our failures

Monday, January 24, 2005

NEW! Review of Charles O. Hartman

Island by Charles O. Hartman. Ahsahta Press.

Review by Kate Umans

Charles O. Hartman's work has in the past opened its doors to everything from jazz to computer-generated phrases. Yet, for such a democratic poet, he is someone who delights in innovations made possible by restriction. His previous collection, for instance, contained a series of prose poems whose only requirement was that they never use the verb “to be.” Where does a poet who has already gone to these kinds of limits go next? One answer is anywhere. The other answer is somewhere--specifically, the Greek island of Aigina, which provides title and inspiration for Island, Hartman's sixth collection.

The book's ending essay, “Where Am I,” monitors “an especially restless islander” investigating his surroundings. But what restlessness translates to in the book's three sections of poetry is not agitation or haste in scanning its subjects, but rather an active dissatisfaction with the usual ways of processing them. The first of Island's sections consists of a single, hypnotic long poem, “Tambourine”--the book's most consuming and intrepid project. This is no ordinary epic, for it's driven by math before (but not in place of) the usual engines--discovery, quest, and trial. The premise is that the poem functions as a “pi mnemonic”-- the lengths of words follow corresponding decimal digits of pi (the first word 3 letters, the second 1, then 4, and so on).

Hartman peppers “Tambourine” with facts and images of Aigina, telling us, for example, that “to evacuate coasts / a ratsnest of murderous pirates / they built these steep streets.” Yet much of the scene is interior and philosophical, or is compelled by language's near-physical participation. The resulting language can at times be distilled into a proverb-like gravity (“Seeing invents / otherwise anywhere / is a same nonplace”) or even something approximating the stillness and concentration of the haiku (“water / toothless / gnaws senseless a shoreline / rawly new”) and then all at once let lose into a Whitmanesque rowdiness (“A bellow a roaring laugh and posthaste an ecstatic wave speaks lethally / a ten syllable of itself”). Whatever the speed at which the language moves, the effect of the poem is such that every word seems to hang, suspended and independent, in the air, despite the lack of punctuation's regulation. Motion is created by way of a series of poses, the way animation moves frame by frame.

Although Hartman self-deprecatingly references a dependence on a “halfassed lexic hoard,” the poem feels anything but inhibited. It brims with invented colloquialisms and fused-together words (“wayonback,” “mymisself”) that surely reflect, in part, a necessary ingenuity in dealing with the demands of the form. But in a poem which states an interest in processes such as orogeny (mountain making) and the forming and re-forming of shorelines, it is as if the words themselves participate in the protracted coastline drama. They become pieces of an emergent, mid-erosion language, not yet worn down to distinct forms.

The mathematical guidelines technically do their puppeteering from offstage, but “Tambourine” also openly relishes math's connectedness to human experience, geography, and time. And if most poems touch casually on such connections, this poem lives it out. Here, not only does water reveal that “counting enchants it,” but the speaker himself gets plugged into an elaborate logic problem where “the variable I / rehearses values / that like to approach constant X,” with X holding steady to the self's fluctuations, sometimes as higher power, sometimes as the sort of collective vibration of humanity's bustle. Always “out of courtesy / X eludes,” and the pursuit of it invents--in the way any theological search does--both meaning and the debris of “doctrinal middens.”

After this complex meal, the two-per-page short poems of the next section (“Morning, Noon, & Night”) are a palate cleanser--plainspoken, loose-reined observations of island routines, characters, and features. Each one might well be preceded by “Oh, look!” Where the opening long poem brings with it all that comes with the current, these poems better conform to the model of the tide-pool. One peers into each and sees a view, teeming or quiet, but always self-contained: “The lamb in the window has arrived at the height of self-absorption. / Like an invalid whom everything bothers, everything bores except illness, / it has perfected concentration on an ideal” (“The Apotheosis”). Here things and creatures take on their own inner lives; dishes, keys, cats, and dogs dream, plot, and contemplate. But these flights of fancy are all conveyed in the amused tone of the one who invested them with that life, the poet delighting in his bag of tricks.

When the poems withhold details, they do so with the same harmlessness of townspeople going privately about their business--gently, often endearingly--as in the tender but inscrutable lyric “Not One”:
The two--he says--are distinct and inseparable
like the color and the motion of an olive grove
or the pitch and timbre of a voice lingering over a name,
not like sky and sea on a hazy day when islands
and boats seem to float in a false position. Sometimes--he says--
they overlap like the two hands in the lap of an old woman in church
or the thought and word and deed of an honorable man,
not like fig leaves over the first offenders' suddenly private parts.
Never, though, are they one, any more than your two feet,
or your flesh and blood.

Section three (“Eight Greek Lyrics”) contains the logical next immersion. The poems were composed in Greek, and English translations are provided on facing pages. These poems are slower and more deliberate than those of the previous section. “Where Am I” notes, in a discussion of mapping, that “the Chinese reputedly used different miles for uphill and downhill.” If the poems of “Morning, Noon, & Night” are downhill poems, the Greek lyrics are uphill poems, and the mileage does register differently, though rewardingly in both cases.

The Greek lyrics employ the resources of the beginner's phrase-book--cataloguing, interrogation--but run through poetry's fanciful mill. Each new clause is added on with the care of a bricklayer, as in “The Phone Call”:
I wanted to speak to my father
among the dead, but the operator
said it would cost me
all I had. I had

lots: some mountains, a chisel,
two disparate eyes, the light,
the past year, the end of an ugly
cough, a tortoise shell, my pockets,

the tongue of the sea that said No, Yes,
nineteen promises. And a telephone. I asked,
All? The answer: All except
the debt. That you will need.

All the poems of Island seem joined in the act of questioning what happens en route to destination or solution--whether within math, pilgrimage, translation, or a life--following “whichever direction suggests the vectors / of veritably pilgrim progress.” The vector, in fact, could be the book's emblem, as it stands in for the limited, representative knowledge we have of everything--ourselves, time, geography, and the cosmos, to name a few--and “our ability to sample” them, which makes us both fortunate and disastrously constrained. Throughout, the island itself is not only Hartman's solid ground, but also his talisman against an otherwise chaotic vastness, as he declares triumphantly:
Now this universe at large has lost an I

Sunday, January 23, 2005

NEW! Review of James Doyle

Einstein Considers a Sand Dune by James Doyle. Steel Toe Books.

Reviewed by Matthew Smith

It's the kind of uncertainty that would drive Einstein to distraction. The first poem in James Doyle's Einstein Considers a Sand Dune takes the perspective of an American boy growing up on a farm during World War II. The family living down the road from the POW camp takes a small-picture approach to the war, and, granted, Doyle pitches in an escaped prisoner who more or less embodies Schrodinger's cat. But there's a consistent topic, a voice, a sense of movement and meaning. “When the German Prisoners Passed” even closes poignantly: “The war ended in time so I wasn't drafted. / My parents said they guessed we should be glad // grandpa's was the only death in the family / in the war years. Now they were free to get old.”

Here's the hitch. Poem two, “Babe Ruth Considers a Sand Dune,” picks up the motif of baseball from the first poem and, by way of playful imagery, cleverness, and humor, becomes perhaps the best of all possible outcomes ... if you asked a roomful of poets to write a poem about an athlete in the desert. Doyle does a crackerjack impersonation of the Babe: “'I never liked salt // or egg in my beer,' he snorts, popping another can.” It's just that something seems a little off when this poem carries the title's formula, and all it amounts to is a pretty good bar joke. And so on.

The collection, which won last year's Steel Toe Books Poetry Prize, contains some stunning, beautiful poems (“The People Who Have Vanished,” “Corset,” “Christina of Denmark,” “Tipi,” “The Diver,” and “Perhaps There's a Headstone” for starters). “No Other Elegy,” a meditation on a favorite swimming hole gone sour, reminds one of Larkin with his knack for marrying the profound to the profane. (“Nice debris, I think. The rest / of the life-sized doll is probably // staring up at me from the bottom.”) The end of this poem brings up a concern that gathers mass and energy as the book goes on: that of a dangerously inert past, and future. Doyle reminds himself and us that, difficult as it might be, he's going to have to stand up if he wants to move around:
I dove in just now
to make memory three-dimensional.

But total memory has no fluidity.
You are encased in it and preserved whole

like a peat bog corpse. I drag myself
out of the water while I still can.

A peculiar component of Einstein is the handful or so of ekphrastic poems. The best of these is “Christina's World,” named for the famous painting by Andrew Wyeth of a blind girl reclining on a hill. By slyly projecting his own mythology onto the familiar scene, Doyle peels back our expectations and reveals something far more shocking and familiar: “Suddenly we know what she is looking / at. The field between her and the house / has filled up with the rest of her life ... It has / become so crowded now neither Christina / nor we can ever again move on.”

So many of the poems, however, smack of novelty; too often Doyle seems to be pacing off his creative range. “Louis XVI” is slathered with opulent descriptions and nudge-nudge observations, and a potentially interesting piece about the worship of the transient is ultimately spoiled by linguistic display. An indulgence in post-imperialist finger wagging certainly doesn't help: “He powdered / his cheeks nine times a day / in the one mirror he knew / was shatter-proof--the vagrant eyes / over the countryside and cities / of France.” Aside from being a little awkward, this snipe is banal. (Noting that Louis XVI was inconsiderate of his subjects is a little like pointing out that Gandhi was a nice guy.) Even so, some of Doyle's flights of fancy do soar. The unlikely “Diapers” follows the hilarious nosedive-into-madness of a conservation-minded mother who makes the choice to use cloth diapers. Tailing the development of new life and new waste, the poem brings the reader again into the struggle against stasis, against the filling-up of the world--this time with “millions of small white symmetrical squares.”

When Doyle is not digging into this recurring concern, however, his poems can baffle, with tropes and images that seem to have no more continuity than a pack of chain-smoked cigarettes. In “I Think I Met the One Last Night,” he makes the following transition: “She lined them up / behind the Zamboni // and we skated / on smooth ice like a real family. / When the curtain // dropped, we realized / we could still be friends.” “Discards,” an otherwise intriguing piece about shedding dead skin, stumbles over its own sagacity: “Anonymity is the one drug // whose only withdrawal symptom is time.” The ambitious double portrait “Salome”--depicting the young dancer visiting John the Baptist in prison--touches on both figures' inner monologues but leaves us with a disappointingly shallow conclusion. We are led into the darkness of the saint's cell with a richly attired beauty as our guide, and somehow all we leave with is a tolerance for differing perspectives. Even the title poem, toying with the proximity of brilliance to silliness (“his mustache like Groucho Marx.”), concludes its game at a noncommittal distance, with “things that could be old / spaghetti or new worlds / trickling down his chin.”

So why the schizophrenia? Two poems from late in the book may provide the answer. The first, “John the Baptist in the Desert” (combining earlier devices), concludes:
He no longer needs to give shape to the words
his cousin will wish upon the world.

His hands have the strength his voice had.
He clenches and unclenches them. Now that he knows

he will live, John no longer cares if he dies.
He is ready to leave the desert.

Maybe this has been Doyle's plan all along--neither to cooperate nor to impede, but to step aside and let truth go about its own business. In “In the Bronx,” the genius reappears as hyperbole: “they rehashed his moves / in that day's Yankees game from more angles / than Einstein ever figured on his blackboard.” Is it that simple? Is the angle-tally this book's central concern? The poem's last lines elaborate: “like turning / your back on yourself for a while, / so you wouldn't feel used up by yourself.” Clunky as the phrasing is, it aptly describes all the moments in Einstein Considers a Sand Dune when Doyle opts to wink at the reader, at the poem, and at himself as poet.

We know the winking is a conscious choice, however, because, halfway through Einstein, Doyle faces the abyss hinted at in so many other poems. “The Cancerous Cell” is a robust treatment of disease as an allegorical figure: “It can't put the book down. It reads / faster and faster. It will read / through the night until the story / is finished.” Doyle's vigorous imagination stretches to full effect, fingering dozens of images which he sets in place with a precision and care magnified by urgency. Here he brings us to the intersection of mortality and eternity:
We can invent the intimacy of a biopsy
and pinpoint the precise moment
when the microscopic world of cells
opened like a gorge and we swayed
on its edge, growing dizzy, staring down
and down. In this case, 2:16 P.M.,
Tuesday, February 23rd, 1999.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

NEW! Karyna McGlynn poem

Karyna McGlynn


Here come the girls in their strawberry coats,
up our building’s walk
with their thin boys and black bangs.
It’s 2:30 am on a Friday and they return
precisely now, and now
they see me watching from my fish-tank room.
They are swimming toward me through their freckles,
through their knitting.

Tonight the season starts to chill.
From my desk, I blow and their hair turns gold,
turns red, falls in piles on the drive.
They are artists without paints or pens or instruments.
They all own birds.

Here come the strawberry-coated girls!
They are smoking on the stoop because they have to:
it’s in their contracts. They’re Catholic,
or something like it.
Their words are purple rosary beads,
they visit each station in turn,
tap each holy head with a thumb and begin again.
They never say too much.

Smoke eddies at the windows of my fish-tank.
I remember I am Southern, other--
and despise my messy mouth: bragging and gushing,
smearing and smashing all my meaning together.
I light my fish-tank from within,
write on the front glass, where the girls go by.
I am no mystery.

There, my juvenalia sits in the corner like a naked doll,
with my old name and made-up lovers, there
where anyone might see and know the worst of me.

There! They are coming--
the girls with red coats and black bangs and birds,
who live deep down in our building
in rooms without windows or doors,
with their clocks and thin boys who worry and count.

Off come their red coats.
They are snuffing their smokes on the stairs,
pouring their silent bodies back
into our building’s gut.
They hide what’s wrong and wear what’s right.

I hear them lock-up, light-tight
and sweep their crumbs.
I smell their papers burning in the kitchen sink.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

NEW! Michael Robins poems

Michael Robins

Three Poems


For the hours in which a silhouette is cast,
the evening’s kept awake by another form.

Now it’s now again, the snow bears a pattern
for the shapes who nearly meet in the snow.

Once a covered slope was manner for taking,
a profile for each rise in the conversation.

The streets under light are empty time again
for linen, tables & chairs of a festive spread.

Once, I built a frame, hoarded convention
to counter the sound a hungry circle makes.

The evening becomes a figure, lovers sleep
in a fold of white sheets & the appetite grows.


Because we live in comparison, right or left,
sunny side up, I’m torn belief by the whole,
the moon & star together in a red full tone.
The yellow cranes divide the sky, one world
from the next while an iron frame takes shape,
fashions a skyline, the breeze along its path.
It’s nice outside, nicer yet a steam that climbs
ruptured, a funnel scattered above the street.
What could be more enchanting: the chimney,
wisp that skims a valley in the break of day?
A man, a woman, twisting links under cover
or is the house on fire, a lantern by the draft
& now a window sand, ash divorced in ash?
Embers or glaciers, the desert or via city map,
one may gather or unravel the forms around.
If, later, you find the time to unearth a source,
reap the slow uncoupling. You may dissolve
a frost along the line that stays its silver tone,
the childhood that arrives much later in life.


We were awoken by the flood, drops of night
inside the larvae when something’s overturned
our log. Blind is collective memory, inch to inch
where those have gone for sugar in a kitchen.
We have so many legs. They begin at the knee,
extend the air as if for an empty glass of water
in the darkness of a room. The workers gnaw
within the circles between our jaws, their world
a narrow stair cut tall & back without a railing.
Larvae or pupae what’s the difference? They’re
ours, white at birth, they’ll fight until they die.
A wind thwarts the grass, footpaths that tumble
like the branch end to end toward other yards,
other towns. Underground, we pile mounds
to protect our queen, our mother sealed inside
her chamber. We carry twenty times our weight.